History was probably my least favorite subject in school, much to my history loving father’s chagrin. Somehow I managed to do well enough on the AP US History test (probably due to tutoring by that same father) to end up with 6 college credits in History. I like to point out to my Dad that obviously this means that I must know something about history; in reality it probably speaks more to the inadequacies of standardized testing as a true measure of knowledge. I was part of a honors program in college that did away with all the normal requirements so I was able to get through all of college without taking any more history.
All that to say I’m pretty woefully ignorant when it comes to history. Especially world history. As an adult I’ve begun to try to remedy this gap in my education. As shocking as it would be to my 16 yr old self, I’ve discovered that I really like history.
I think the problem in school was multifactorial. Leaving aside my own shortcomings as a student with a close-minded little teenage brain, part of it was that we studied the same parts of history every single year. There was way too much focus on random dates and memorization. And there was nothing that tied it all together for me, that gave me a feel for an overarching narrative.
As a way to begin to fill in my history self-education I’ve read the first two books in Susan Wise Bauer’s planned four volume history of the world series. I’ve enjoyed both quite a bit. Bauer has a knack for finding the interesting stories and characters and highlighting them.
As I read this book, I have to admit I asked myself at times whether or not it was worth it. Not because it wasn’t enjoyable or well-written. Because I wondered if it was worth spending my limited time and mental energy on things like details of medieval Korean kingdoms knowing that I’ll forget most if not all of what I read. It’s true that I probably won’t remember a lot of the details and that in my day to day life it doesn’t really matter how much I know about medieval Korea. However, what I got from this book was a better understanding of some of the overarching themes of the Middle Ages. I gained a little bit of insight into the history behind some of the issues still around today, like the difference between Sunni and Shia Muslims. I gained a better appreciation for the history and culture in areas of the world I know very little about.
Most importantly, I gained a better appreciation for history itself, and a desire to read more.
Which is another way of saying (as painful as it is to say) that my Dad was right all along.
(And by the way Dad, Happy Birthday!)